Family Fun on Fire Island
Although Fire Island might be known for its rowdy and unique nightlife, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t a family-friendly island. With over 32 miles of gorgeous white sand beaches, very few cars, friendly locals, a national forest, and stunning sunsets, Fire Island has all the makings for a fantastic family getaway from the hustle of the city.
So, are you ready to spend the day, or the weekend, on Fire Island? Below, we have compiled a list of must-see landmarks, activities, and beaches on Fire Island.
Before You Go
Fire Island is not the lap of convenience that New York or other large cities are, so be sure to plan accordingly. For instance, there are several ferry companies that travel to and from the island with their own rules and schedules. Be sure to check the schedules ahead of time as well as what they will and will not allow on the ferries. You can find a list of their schedules here.
We also suggest bringing plenty of cash with you when heading to Fire Island, especially if you plan to visit the wilderness or lounging on the beach. There are many snack bars and other shack facilities meant to make your stay more pleasurable, but ATM’s are few and far between.
One of the greatest perks to Fire Island is the miles of serene, white sand beaches, which are a welcomed change from the concrete jungle. Some beaches on Fire Island are more geared towards young singles, such as Cherry Grove and The Pines, however, there are plenty of other beaches on the Island that are family friendly.
Visitor Center: 631-597-6455
Watch Hill is the largest developed site run by the National Seashore. It lies about a half of a mile to the east of Davis Park. It boasts a marina with 188 slips, most with electric and water, and a pump out station.
There is also a visitor’s center, lifeguarded beach with cold showers and bathrooms, a grocery store, a souvenir shop, a snack bar, and a full-service restaurant at Watch Hill. There are picnic areas and grills on site, as well as phones and first aid. If you are looking for a beach day without giving up amenities or convenience, then Watch Hill is the perfect place for your family.
Visitors Center: 631-597-6183, 631-597-6171
Located farther south on the Island you will find a similar beach area called Sailor’s Haven. Much like Watch Hill, Sailor’s Haven provides a visitor’s center, picnic areas, a shop, a snack bar, bathrooms and showers, and barbeque pits located conveniently near the dock.
From the visitor’s center, follow the boardwalk to the lifeguarded beach which is perfect for beachcombing and swimming.
Before you pack the cooler for your beach day, remember that no glass is allowed on the beach, and dogs are also prohibited.
Robert Moses State Park
The Robert Moses State Park offers nearly five miles of white sand beaches that are ideal for surfing and swimming as well as a pier where fishing is permitted. The Park offers four different lifeguarded beach areas as well as picnic areas, showers, and a small golf course.
If you’d rather not lug your beach chairs all the way to the island, Robert Moses offers chairs and umbrellas for a rental fee of $10. This is also one of the few places on the island to which you can drive your vehicle, and parking is $10 per car.
Smith Point County Park
Visitors Center: 631-852-1313
Also accessible by car, Smith Point County Park offers lifeguarded beaches that include restrooms, showers, a playground for younger children, a camp ground, and a Beach Hut restaurant that serves delicious seafood and often some live music. While you’re at Smith Point, take time to visit the TWA Flight 800 International Memorial and Gardens.
If you are looking for a little more adventure while visiting these beaches, why not do some beachcombing? Searching for hidden treasures on the beach never stops being fun. On Fire Island, you can explore all of its incredible beaches year-round for shells, marine plants, and more exotic finds. Be careful not to disturb any shells that might still have living inhabitants. Fire Island was once used as a secret hideaway for pirate’s treasure, so who knows what you’ll find!
Any shells or interesting finds you make are for personal use only. Some beaches limit how many shells you are allowed to collect, so be sure to check with the visitor’s center of each location before visiting.
In Ocean Beach west of the jetties, on any given summer day, surfers can now be spotted “Hangin’ 10” or at least trying. Surfing is welcome at many locations on Fire Island, but not all. So, be sure to check ahead of time in the location you are visiting.
Local kids offer lessons for visitors, so check postings in the towns you are visiting if you are interested in getting a crash course in surfing from a Fire Island native.
Is the sand not your thing? Don’t worry, there are still plenty of other opportunities for adventure and fun on Fire Island!
During any time of the year, visitors to the island can partake in ranger-led programs to help you learn more about the island and the National Seashore. Tours focus primarily on the natural and cultural features available at each of the visitor centers scattered over the island. Most of the programs are free to enjoy; however, some of the special events can have a minimal fee attached. Be sure to visit the National Seashore website to receive the most recent news about upcoming tours and events.
Here are just a few of our favorite ranger-led programs:
Exploring the Salt Marsh: A Guided Canoe Tour
Thursday-Sunday 11:15 am
Enjoy the enchanting beauty of the salt marshes on a two-hour guided canoe tour! Reservations are on a first come, first serve basis. Although paddles and life jackets are provided, no one under the age of six or unable to swim is permitted on the tour.
Want to go? Reservations start at 10 am at the nearby visitor’s center.
Otis Pike Fire Island High Dunes Wilderness
NPS – Wilderness Visitors Center: 631-281-3010
The wilderness extends from the Smith Point Wilderness Visitor Center to Watch Hill. At about 1,380 acres and seven miles long, it is the smallest wilderness area managed by the National Park Service. Here, you will find a summer aquarium, a touch table, a seashore orientation film, and several ranger-led tours with fun activities for children, such as their Crafts Program, Seaside Stories and much more fun for the entire family.
The Fire Island Lighthouse
Main office: 631-321-7028
Adults $7; Seniors, Military, and Children under 12 $4
One of the tallest lighthouses in the country, The Fire Island lighthouse is a staple site for Fire Island. It provides a stunning view of the island in all directions. Tours are available until 5:30 daily; however, children must be 42 inches tall to climb the stairs.
The easiest access point to the lighthouse is Parking Lot 5 at Robert Moses State Park, which is just a short walk away!
The Sunken Forest at Sailors’ Haven
Tours: 11 am daily; 2:30 pm Saturdays and Sundays
The Sunken Forest is a beautiful, rare 40-acre maritime forest, one of only a few left in the world. It gets its name from the tall dunes surrounding nearly all sides, giving the center a sunken appearance.
The trees here are really a sight to see, each one twisting in intricate, fascinating designs, and none growing taller than the dunes which protect the trees. It takes approximately an hour to stroll along the boardwalks and paths that are maintained through the forest.
Boating and Fishing
Prefer more water driven activities? Fire Island includes fantastic boating and fishing opportunities around the island. For the avid boater or fisherman, here are the must-try spots on Fire Island.
Fire Island Is a Boater’s Paradise
Fire Island satisfies all your boating needs—it has everything from motorboats to jet skis. There are marinas in Watch Hill and Sailor’s Haven where you can dock your boat overnight. It should be noted, however, that there is a 14-day limit for docking your boat overnight. For smaller boats and personal watercrafts, most boaters use Barret Beach to dock and unload. Jet skis are restricted to the island boundaries and are prohibited near the shoreline.
With the sea so accessible, other marine activities are equally as popular. Sailing has a rich heritage on the bay. In fact, several of the most famous racing skippers of the America’s Cup hail from these parts. Today, the racing is less formal with small local clubs fielding teams of dingy racers on Sunfish and Lasers. Saltaire, Dunewood, and Point O’ Woods have organized sailing programs that participate along with mainland clubs in races all summer long.
For sailing and motorboat enthusiasts, use the south shore waterways to get to Fire Island. Use the NOAA Survey Chart No. 1215 and directions found on the navigation page as your guide.
The Yacht Club
The Yacht Club takes its sailing seriously and competes in regattas all over Long Island; an ancient rivalry exists between Point O’ Woods and Saltaire with the so-called “rudder race.” The winning trophy—a rudder engraved with the winner’s name—has been handed back and forth for years (and occasionally, albeit temporarily, surreptitiously removed by the loser from the winner’s club after hours).
Another popular activity on Fire Island is surf-fishing. Year-round, locals and visitors to the island take advantage of the many fishing opportunities on the island. As of late, a no-fee New York recreational fishing registry is now required in order to fish on the island. However, size and possession limitations are enforced and commercial fishing remains prohibited. Additionally, horseshoe crabs are not allowed to be harvested within the Fire Island boundaries.
A certain amount of local knowledge obviously helps anglers succeed. You often see locals fishing the same areas again and again. It is a good idea to try and glean some of this wisdom from the locals although it is often difficult as good fishermen usually keep their secrets dear. Your best bet is to buy the local newspaper, the Fire Island News, or visit websites that cater to fishing the local waters.
The Great South Bay
The Great South Bay offers much of the same exciting fishing as the Atlantic. There are several artificial reefs in the areas around the lighthouse as well as a deep-hole list west of the pier. Flounder in the spring, weakfish and fluke in summer, and blackfish and sea bass in the fall are frequently caught here.
Deep Sea Fishing
Deep sea fishing far out in the Atlantic is prevalent as well. One can often hear the deep sea vessels roaring towards the inlet before dawn, racing as much as 100 miles offshore to the Hudson Canyon. These expensive sportfishing machines sally forth all season in search of tuna, shark, marlin, and swordfish.
Anyone interested in trying their hand at hunting these giants of the deep should seek out the many charter vessels that homeport on Captree Island and the mainland. Once the long trip to the hunting grounds is made, many of the larger vessels stay out two or three days searching for their prey.
The Bay is known nationally for the quality and number of its many types of shellfish. Many Fire Islanders have made claiming for quahogs (the most popular edible bivalve) a weekend habit, both for the therapeutic effect after a hectic work week and for the tasty appetizers.
The only tools one needs are an onion sack and your feet which are used to find and dislodge the clams on the bay bottom by using a twisting motion with your feet. Some clammers use long-handled rakes to dig them up as well. There are also mussels, scallops, conch, and blue claw crabs at hand. A shellfish permit is required from the Town of Islip and is available at Islip Town Hall.
Striped bass is perhaps the most sought-after fish in the area. It is the combination of a terrific fight and delectable meat that keeps this migratory ocean denizen in such high demand. They move east along our shores in the spring and to fertile waters off of Rhode Island in the summer.
Each year the anglers eagerly await their return. The stripers reverse migrate in the fall, after feeding all summer, to winter waters off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. The fall migration brings the greater number of large fish, and you can often see the lights of anglers, on both the bay and ocean, all through the night during the months of September.
Be Prepared and Courteous
Each species of fish has its prime season with quantity and size limits set by local wildlife agencies. While nature’s bounty may seem limitless when you come across a large bed of clams or the bluefish that are feeding inshore—these laws are in effect to battle pressure put on marine life by man and to ensure that future generations benefit from the same bounty that we have enjoyed.
Be sure to check beforehand what aquatic life is permitted to be collected in the area you are visiting and what the quantity limit is.
Tent camping is a popular family activity available year-round on the island. The National Seashore has a designated campground at Watch Hill although it will remain closed until 2018. Backcountry camping is also available within the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness.
With so much to do on Fire Island, you’ll be hard-pressed to run out of activities to entertain your family. From sunbathing and surfing to exploring the wilderness, Fire Island is packed with amazing landmarks, adventures, and perfectly peaceful spots for relaxation.